Posts tagged: twitter

Forget Facebook, Pshaw Pinterest, Toodaloo Twitter: Bringing Social In-house

social media thinkingDespite the pithy title of this post, I’m not actually anti social media. Nor am I in any way predicting its demise. And while I’m disclaiming, let me also say that I don’t consider myself a social commerce expert. But I have been doing retail for almost 28 years and have been involved in e-commerce for about 15 years, and I’ve learned a lot along the way.

And I don’t think we’ve been looking at social in the right way.

The numbers bandied about are spectacular and tantalizing. If Facebook was a country, it would be the third biggest in the world! Over a billion users! But if you think a little deeper about them, they don’t hold up as well. You hear over a billion users and you think that’s Super Bowl audience type numbers. But it’s really not. It’s actually more like 1 billion niche cable channels. You can’t really put a single message out and connect to all of those people in one shot.

There’s lots of talk about the average of 230+ friends each person has and an assumption that our customers will share their shopping experiences with their friends. And they do at times. But those  friends are not all equally influenced by those shares. A number of my Facebook friends are old friends from high school that I connected with once but am otherwise not highly connected. So how open are these types of friends to anything I might share?

Another of my favorites is “time on site.” The average time on Facebook exceeds Google. But what does that mean? And is that a reasonable comparison point? Google is actively trying to get people to click away from their site. That’s how they get paid.

Yet, still, there’s something there. Governments are being toppled with the aid of social media. That’s pretty powerful. So what can we do with it?

social revolution

Well, we retailers tend to be like hammers that see everything as a nail. So we want to figure out how to put a cash register on it. And we’ve seen some highly publicized Facebook stores like 1-800-Flowers and Best Buy’s various attempts. But so many of these have seemed to result in no sales.

OK. Maybe not a store. Then what?

We’ve been flailing about some trying to figure something out. We’ve asked silly questions, and people respond. We’ve tried to amp up our customer service in these channels, and that has been good for PR. We’ve tweeted lots of fun facts and tips. But Twitter is like a river, really. So much is flying past so often, I really have to wonder how much anyone really sees. We have videos on YouTube with some great content that’s fun to watch, and now we’re seeing decent action around shopping on Pinterest.

So some of the stuff we’re doing seems to have some branding value, but I’m not sure we’re making the most of it. For most retailers, orders attributed to social media as a last touch are basically non-existent. But maybe, you might say, click tracking might not really tell you about influence. OK, we asked our customers at Sur La Table. Their self-reported answers say they’re a little more influenced than click tracking would suggest, but it’s nothing to write home about.

Still, I can’t help thinking there’s a lot of power in the idea of bringing people together with the help of some social technologies.

I’m always thinking about what I call the customer engagement cycle. The last step, Referral, is really the Holy Grail. If we can get our best customers to be our best marketers and merchants, we can make that cycle much more efficient and effective. And our customers are WAY more credible than we are. A recent Gallup Honesty poll ranked Advertising practitioners BARELY higher than Members of Congress! Yikes!

Seth Godin gave an amazing speech to the music industry several years ago as the record labels were seeing their businesses tuned upside down by digital downloads – legal and illegal. People were freaking out. But he provided another avenue (one not really taken, but that’s another story) that was largely about the underlying principles of “social.”

He said, and I paraphrase:

“People don’t listen to companies, they listen to people. And, there is something magical about the connection between one person and another person.

There is a large number of people who want to be led…who want to connect…who want to join a tribe.

And you have the ability, from where you stand, to make some of those connections happen.”

So maybe the idea of social is right, but we’re just doing it wrong. Or at least we’re doing it for the wrong reasons. If we want to use social to get cash flowing into the registers, I think we need to look at the opportunity differently.

context mindset purposeI think there are three specific conditions we need to be successful: context, purpose and mindset.

I think context becomes incredibly important. All the social media channels out there have plenty of value for branding, messaging, etc. We run into trouble when we try to make them transactional. Maybe that’s not the best way to use Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. But that doesn’t mean the idea of “social” can’t benefit transactions. I think it just means we have to implement social capabilities in the right place with the right context. And our sites are different from our Facebook pages, which are different from our stores.

And that’s because each of these environments were constructed for different purposes and as a result customers have different purposes in mind when they visit each. On Facebook, it’s more about seeing what friends are up to and maybe also engaging with some favorite brands. So while people may see our new products or promotions, at the same time they’re also looking at cute babies, political rants, and embarrassing drunken photos that never should have seen the light of day. Our messages can get obscured pretty quickly.

Whereas people coming to our stores and our sites are purposely looking for products, whether to research or buy. They’re pretty open to learning about new products and they’d love to hear about promotions. They have a completely different mindset. And that attitude and inclination can make all the difference.

The mindset when using Facebook and other social media is largely about entertainment. Keeping track of friends, seeing photos, etc. is fun and entertaining. But there’s a lot going on there, and nothing really holds your attention for too terribly long. And even though there is interactivity, it’s still largely passive. But going to a retail store or site is all about shopping and checking out the products! When customers come to our stores, they are clearly much closer to a buying mode than we could expect when they’re just being entertained by social media.

So it’s that sweet spot where that the right context, purpose and mindset meet that we might have the best opportunity to unleash the power of social media. And really, we’ve already proven that some of our best conversion tactics are rooted in concepts of social. For example, customer reviews are a very effective way for people to connect to each other. According to a Nielsen study last year, 70% of people trust customer reviews, and that trust factor is on the rise. Even recommendations are basically a form of social since they’re based on what other people have done. They’re especially social and effective when we frame them as “People who viewed this also viewed” or something similar.

So how do we take these ideas to the next level?

How can we take Seth Godin’s sage advice and find ways to connect our passionate customers from across the country with each other under our brand umbrella?

At Sur La Table, we think we can do that with something we’re calling “My Collections.” The idea is that customers will be able to create – and share on – collections of our products. In a sense, it’s a bit like Pinterest on our site. We worked with our partner, 8th Bridge, to create this fun new feature that combines the credibility of customer reviews with the discovery elements of recommendations to take the power of social on our sites to a new level. And it’s really taking off. Customers have quickly created tons of collections to share with other customers, and they’re already demanding new features like the ability to comment more on their collections and the ability to more easily find other collection creators like them. Luckily, these are features we’re already working on!

We’ve also gotten our staff involved. We employ chefs in a lot of stores, and we certainly have them creating and sharing collections. We’re going to work to involve big name chefs we have relationships with. Certainly our store associates are participating. And not only do they create content, but they also benefit from the content created by others. It’s useful for them to learn how customers are putting our products together, and it helps them create ideas for their customers.

We’re really excited about where all of this is going, and I hope you are, too.

What do you think? How are your social programs generating value for your company? Have you tried anything that worked well? Did context, purpose and mindset play a role?


Twitter: A model for a people focused business strategy?

I am truly impressed with the way Twitter combines a very rigid constraint with an incredible amount of openness to create a hugely flexible service that gets better and better through the combined effort of many creative and devoted users and developers. (To be clear, I’m talking about Twitter the application/service as opposed to Twitter the company.) I wonder if such a nicely blended mix of rigidness and openness is just the right recipe for developing the type of business strategies that best leverage the power of people in an organization.

Twitter’s one rigid constraint, of course, is the 140 character limit for any one tweet. It’s an incredibly strict and inflexible constraint, but it’s well-defined, easily enforced and easy to remember. Beyond that single constraint, though, Twitter the company is extremely open about letting users and developers work within that constraint to improve the service. And improve it they have. Here’s a quote from co-founder Biz Stone’s recent blog post:

“Twitter began as a rudimentary social tool based on the concept of status messages but together with those who use it every day, the service has taught us what it wants to be. From features invented by users to applications built on the platform, we’re still discovering potential. Twitter has moved from simple social networking into a new kind of communication and a valuable source of timely information. Also, it’s fun.”

Developers have used Twitter’s APIs to create excellent applications like Tweetdeck or capabilities that have transformed the service like Summize, which created an ability to search through all tweets. (Twitter ultimately purchased Summize and created Twitter Search.)

Users also developed great innovations. The ability to search inspired someone to start including hashtags in messages to make it easier to find conversations of interest, and apps like Tweetdeck created columns devoted to search terms to make it just as easy to follow topics as it is to follow people.

And that 140 character limit? TinyURL, which to be fair was already in existence, exploded when people began to realize it could help them post URLs within the confines of the Twitter character limit.

So what does all this have to do with developing business strategies?

Over the years, I’ve seen and written all kinds of business strategies of varying levels of detail and sophistication. I’ve come to realize, though, that the most effective and executable strategies are those that have the following qualities:

1. They are easy-to-understand, support and communicate
Twitter nails this one with the simple idea that the service be used to communicate short bits of info to followers. Business strategies should do this with a clear and simple statement of purpose. This statement could be called a mission or vision statement or something else altogether, but the key is that it be clear, simple and easy to remember. Clear objectives for the strategy should also be stated, so that those who execute the strategy know what they’re working towards. For example, objectives could be increase conversion, increase market share and maximize profitability. I’ve found that three clear objectives are about as much as anyone can reasonably remember.

2. Have clear boundaries
Twitter’s 140 character limit is a very clear boundary. Business strategies can create these boundaries with clear constraints. I believe it’s OK, and sometimes even desirable, for objectives to contradict each other to some degree as a form of balance. Without the “maximize profitability” objective mentioned above serving as a constraint, we could easily spend our way to increased conversion and increased market share, but that spending could be very unhealthy for the business. Conversely, by stating that we want to maximize profitability, we are also opening the door to making all investments necessary to gain the most possible profit with our various tactics.

3.    Allow for flexibility and creativity by those executing the strategy

Twitter opened up their service via APIs and allowed anyone to improve upon the service. Businesses can do something similar by doing what I call “matching the A’s,” which are Accountability and Authority. By clearly defining accountabilities for each member of the team, and at the same time assigning matching authority, businesses can truly unleash the creativity and power of the organization to maximize the objectives. Giving members of the team closest to the actual work the authority and accountability to perform as they see best can produce excellent results. While this is easy to say, it’s difficult to do. A lot of forethought needs to be applied to ensure accountabilities are well-defined, and a conflict resolution system needs to be defined to deal with the inevitable clashes that will occur when teams with dependencies have different priorities. I’ve seen great strategies fail because effort wasn’t put into carefully defining and matching authority and accountability, so I strongly believe serious effort is required here.

So is it as easy as 1…2…3? Definitely not. Designing “simple” strategies requires an incredible amount of effort and thought, but the effort is worth it if the end result is a highly functioning, effectively executing organization. Twitter is proof-positive that a well-designed structure can enable the power of the people to elevate good ideas to incredible results.

What do you think? What types of strategies have you seen work? Do you agree that Twitter represents a good model for people-powered strategies, or do you think strategies can and should be more complex?

Retail: Shaken Not Stirred by Kevin Ertell

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